Hi, Chana! Congrats on your funny and sweet debut, DADDY DEPOT. We both had Dad themed books debuting this year so it’s a treat to interview you! What were your favorite books as a kid?
I remember loving BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL by Robert McCloskey and ARE YOU MY MOTHER? by P.D. Eastman. Interestingly, these books are about characters who get separated from their parents (and have happy reunions). My debut picture book, DADDY DEPOT, is a little more cynical: it’s about a girl named Lizzie who returns her father to the daddy store. Just for the record, I would never swap my pop!
While this is your first picture book, you are a prolific nonfiction writer. How different was the writing process for DADDY DEPOT from your other books?
Before DADDY DEPOT, I wrote 20+ nonfiction books for the educational market about natural disasters, stinky castles, farm animals, and other kid-friendly topics. Many were work-for- hire projects, with either a flat fee or an advance with royalties. The publishers contacted me as a freelance writer to research and write the books. They had a pretty quick turnaround time of five to eight weeks and they were published within a year. Word counts ranged from 500-5,000. Those books sell mainly to schools and libraries.
DADDY DEPOT is more of a journey—and fulfillment of a dream. It’s my debut picture book and my first published work of fiction. The idea popped into my head as a bedtime story about eight years ago (!). My daughter was upset with her dad and we conjured a story about a girl who returns her father to the daddy store. We laughed a lot about a shopping spree in a store filled with dads. Afterward, I went downstairs and started writing. That began a multi-year process of learning the ropes of picture-book writing. At the time, I knew next-to- NOTHING about the craft, format, and style of PBs even though I loved them and read them to my kids every night. Once I learned the craft and went through dozens of drafts, the journey continued with finding an agent, selling the manuscript to Feiwel & Friends (an imprint of Macmillan), and seeing it through to publication.
I still write both fiction and nonfiction—depending on where my heart and brain take me. (I very rarely take on work-for- hire projects. My new nonfiction books are my own ideas that I pitch.) Writing fiction and nonfiction are very different skills. For example, the research process for nonfiction involves reading lots of books, researching newspaper clips, interviewing people, doing online research, and digging for facts. The research for DADDY DEPOT involved walking up and down the aisles of Home Depot and Costco for inspiration. I love nonfiction because it can illuminate the world in new ways for kids. With fiction, I can have more fun and be free to be goofy and let my imagination run wild.
I think you’ve not only made a funny book, but one that touches on the highs and
lows of the father-daughter relationships. What inspired this story?
Thanks Gina! The story started with the bedtime story mentioned above. But the heart of the book is modeled on my husband—not my dad. My husband Larry is an awesome dad to our four kids. But I wanted to focus on imperfect parenting. As parents, none of us are perfect (well, I know I’m not.). The dad in the book is distracted by football, tells corny jokes, and snores during snuggle time. That’s Larry, Larry, and Larry. He also makes amazing pancakes and does a wicked funky-chicken touchdown dance, also featured in the book. My kids all adore their dad and would probably never return him. (Me, on the other hand…?) Bottom line: “Write what you know.” Base your characters on real-life people in real-life situations but stretch them to the max. (Funny anecdote: When I told my dad that I was writing a book about a girl who returns her father to the daddy store, he said, “What?! My hearing aid isn’t working!” BTW, his hearing is fine.)
SPOILER ALERT! The Dad party is my favorite spread. Did you request any specific
type of Dad or did you let the illustrator have full reign over the crowd? Also, do you have a favorite?
That’s one of my favorite spreads too. I had written a list of dads from A-Z as an illustrator’s note. I think Andy Snair used that list and more. I don’t have a favorite but I always ask kids which one they would choose. They have a lot of fun pointing out the different dads. By the way, for readers who love GO DOG, GO, the Dad Party is a wink to the Dog Party!
Working toward a book debut can be a hectic time. Now that you’ve had a chance to share DADDY DEPOT with children, what is one of your favorite moments from a reading?
I loved it when one kid asked, “Did you write THE CAT IN THE HAT?” LOL! At readings, I’ve been having kids dress up as various dads in the book and we act out the story. There’s Rocker Dad, Astro Dad, and Chef Dad. The kids get really into it. I love when kids are uninhibited and let loose. (Well, I’m not their teacher or mom.)
Chana and Gina are giving away a signed copies of DADDY DEPOT and IT’S GREAT BEING A DAD. Enter for a chance to win both HERE!
Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 20 nonfiction books for kids about stinky castles, exploding volcanoes, and other wild stuff. Her first picture book, DADDY DEPOT (illustrated by Andy Snair, Feiwel & Friends), debuted in May 2017. ANIMAL ZOMBIES & OTHER MONSTERS IN NATURE will be coming out from National Geographic Kids in 2018. WAKAWAKALOCH, Chana’s semi-autobiographical picture book about a cave girl who wants to change her unpronounceable name, will be coming out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019. Chana is repped by agent John Cusick at Folio Literary. Visit her at www.chanastiefel.com and her blog for authors, www.kidlittakeaways.com, which she writes with her critique partner, Donna Cangelosi. Follow Chana Stiefel on Facebook and Twitter @chanastiefel.
Gina Perry is an author and illustrator working under the tall pines in New Hampshire. Her debut picture book, IT’S GREAT BEING A DAD (Tundra, April 4, 2017), written by Dan Bar-el, is a hilarious story about imagination, play, and the best parts about being a dad. Her picture book debut as author/illustrator, SMALL (little bee books, August 29, 2017), is an empowering story about a small girl in the city, who shows us what happens if you take one big and brave step. Visit her at ginaperry.com or on twitter @ginamarieperry or instagram @ginapineapple.